Cases of the cattle disease Bovine TB have been steadily rising in the UK for many years, and the government have decided to deal with the problem by implementing a pilot scheme throughout the counties of Somerset and Gloucestershire for badger culling. The pilot scheme aims to cull 5,000 badgers, 90% of which will be free-shot and 10% of which will be caged and then shot.
You might think this is a sad necessity. But actually, although badgers have been killed on suspicion of their spreading the disease for decades, the science doesn’t support this suspicion!
All rights to whoever took this lovely picture.
Bovine TB has been a problem infecting cattle herds since at least 1930, and in 1971 the discovery of a badger carcass infected with TB lead to the assumption that these shy nocturnal mammals were responsible for spreading the disease. After this date, thousands were culled before the government commissioned a proper scientific study to assess the effectiveness of this measure. The Independent Scientific Group (ISG) was set up to conduct what was called the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT). This trial took 9 years to complete (1998 – 2007), cost $50 million of taxpayers money and is considered the best scientific data available on the subject.
This is a summary of what the ISG found:
“Our overall conclusion is that after careful consideration of all the RBCT and other data presented in this report, including an economic assessment, that badger culling cannot meaningfully contribute to the control of cattle TB in Britain.
We further conclude from the scientific evidence available, that the rigorous application of heightened control measures directly targeting cattle will reverse the year- on-year increase in the incidence of cattle TB and halt the geographical spread of the disease.”
(ISG 2007, Paras 10.92 & 10.93, respectively)
Why the government have decided to completely ignore the study that was commissioned, I have no idea. I can only imagine it’s because they can’t think of anything better to do, and culling badgers makes it look like they’re dealing with the problem.
When I first heard about this, my first thought was that bovine TB is probably increasing because factory farming of cows forces them to live in such awful conditions that – unsurprisingly – they’re prone to disease! I don’t have any scientific studies to back this up, but this article in The Guardian at least shows others are on the same page. It does make sense. Animals that are stressed, malnourished, unclean and cramped are more prone to all sorts of illnesses because their immune systems are weak. In fact in many of the worst farms it’s only large doses of antibiotics that keep the animals alive. Because cattle are kept in such large herds, the disease spreads rapidly and the centralised food system means it’s spread around the country – and beyond – quickly as well.
Intensive factory farming of cows. Not my image.
Many people agree that the badger is simply being used as a scapegoat, to avoid the real challenge of cleaning up our cruel, wasteful and unhealthy meat and dairy industry.
Badgers are one of the most distinctive wildlife species in Britain, and have been living here for longer than the islands have been populated by humans. They’re actually protected by law, as an important part of our biodiversity and heritage, and yet the planned culls would supercede that protection. If the pilot study leads on to a wider cull, the badger population of Britain will take a severe decline, probably causing them to become a threatened species. This would be a terrible shame in itself, but who knows how this could affect the ecology of the badger’s woodland habitats?
Image from www.wildlifeextra.com
From an ecological perspective, this is disgusting. Just because we have a dodgy food system doesn’t mean we have the right to exterminate another species.